Synechdoche, New York

Year: 2008
Production Co: Likely Story
Director: Charlie Kaufman
Producer: Charlie Kaufman/Spike Jonze/Sidney Kimmel
Writer: Charlie Kaufman
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton, Tom Noonan, Michelle Williams, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Hope Davis, Dianne Weist

Kaufman's grand and very distinctive vision (you don't see it anywhere else in film) falls a little bit victim to the 'make it more confusing and people will think it's better' bug. Somehow the story of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – the cause and effect that drove the plot – was digestible. It was a bit like Inception, making you think just hard enough not to completely disconnect you from the experience of everything but the image.

In Synechdoche he goes grandly meta, mixing the everyday and trivial with the fantastical in a workaday sense we've still never seen elsewhere but which is much harder to swallow than any of his other work.

It concerns theatre director Caden (Hoffman, rarely better) and the young suburban New York family keeping him occupied while he goes about his daily life, fearing age and disease, trying to guide his precocious daughter and trying to stop his bored wife (Keener) from leaving him.

Caden's also trying not to give in to the flirtations of the pretty ticket office girl (Morton) but he's pleasantly surprised to receive a grant to put on the definitive work he's always wanted to stage. Until that point Kaufman proves himself a master of realism in both scripting and directing but the rest of the film from then on may or may not be an extended dream sequence.

Caden comes across a disused warehouse the size of a stadium where he decides to put on his show. He collects a cast and crew around him and suddenly we're apparently seeing a play within a film of a play being filmed (or something) that shifts constantly. The play is evidently about Caden's life, loves, family and influences and we're never sure who among the huge cast is playing who or when.

Before we know it he's aged to his dotage and is trawling around Berlin trying to find the daughter who never returned home to New York when his artist wife went there on holidays, watching her die in a hospital. An enigmatic stranger (Noonan) who's been following him his whole life shows up announcing that he'll be playing the role of Caden in the play. Or is he Caden, Hoffman's character an actor that's been playing him for longer than he can remember?

Throw in flourishes like the house that's constantly on fire and Kaufman perfects the riddle wrapped in an enigma. Despite the disconnect you'll feel from any cohesive plot it's never boring and if nothing else the staging, acting and imagery will keep you watching for the entire film – if only because you're hoping for a few flashes of Eternal Sunshine magic.

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